(This is a rewrite of an earlier post I made)
Some ask if Lego brick building is Art. To me, that is like asking is sculpting with clay, Art. Well... it could potentially be. Anything, absolutely anything can be made into Art in the right hands, even the ‘child’s toy’ Lego. In the end, bricks are a medium, like oil paint or clay or pixels on a screen. It's what you do with them that matters.
Art vs art
Unfortunately, Art is a very slippery term to identify. Like the word 'love', there are different kinds of meanings or levels depending on the situation. Whether love is puppy, romantic, brotherly, motherly or otherwise, we understand which kind it is in the context we are in. So it is with art. We have art classes in grade school where kids create art. There is art generated in design disciplines (graphic design, etc) that is sent to the printer. There is art from the fine art disciplines (painting, sculpture, etc, etc). A beginner painter refers to his art. Museums hang fine art from famous artists. People use terms like, 'the art of cooking', 'the art of writing', 'the art of brick (Lego)'.
And so it is that many in the hobby find themselves in a confusing discussion clouded by semantics. Without a common ground for context, when some say art, they mean Art and when others say Art, they really refer to art. Art being the highest form and art being any product of a creative endeavor.
I think the term most people are interested in is Art with a capital A. It is Art in its highest form – that which is transcending, that which is worthy of professional critique or display in a museum. They want to know if a piece is a work of Art. Or, in the case of Lego, whether a MOC (My Own Creation) is a work of Art.
Most likely any given Lego MOC has not risen to the level of Art. Just as in the world of paintings, sculpture and other traditional mediums, there is a lot of craft, but relatively little of it rises to Art status. A piece may seem well crafted or even artful. It can be interesting or technically masterful. It can certainly be even be art. But often there is a certain something missing that transcends beyond the expected. That something is a powerful emotive element. This is not to say that many pieces have no emotion at all, but rather to say the majority lack in a truly special spark that allows them to rise far above.
Where does Art begin? I find that when a creator sets out to create Art – that being the goal – they will fail. Art is not the pursuit, but rather the result of excellence. Excellence is the pursuit. When a piece transcends beyond its parts in a memorable way, excellence soon follows. This excellence is that secret ingredient that connects with the viewer on an emotional, memorable level. Art is a direct connection between the heart of the artist and that of the viewer.
Principles that give rise to Art
I must admit, I tend to wince a bit when I see posts that define Art in terms of a list of qualifying criteria. To me, it is not a checklist, but rather that unique, magical combination of principles that take a piece beyond the norm. Rather than identify a checklist of what it takes to make Art, I offer here a few principles (of a larger set to be sure) that may contribute to a piece's rise to the higher status of Art.
These principles tend to fall into two categories:
- the medium
- the message
- Craftsmanship. When a piece is crafted far beyond the norm. (medium)
- Newness. A fresh, new take on a medium. (medium)
- Evolved medium. A unique interpretation of a craft or new craft altogether. (medium)
- Timeliness. A piece is created at just the right time to hit upon a very relevant social matter. (message)
- Concept. A powerful concept. (message)
- POV. A unique perspective or POV on some matter. (message)
All these have the potential to tap into an emotion that can be a memorable, even profound experience. It can be the case a piece rises to Art status based on one principle – like craftsmanship – alone. Or it can be the case that it is a unique combination of craftsmanship and message bring Art status. Or perhaps it is message alone that carries the piece.
The notion of newness or uniqueness is an important point in identifying Art. If a piece seems commonplace – that is, not special – it most probably is not Art. It may be artful or artistic. It may be art to the creator. But if everyone can and is doing the same, the piece will fail to connect on an emotive level, which is a deadly place for art to live in. Its impact is lost by virtue of familiarity.
The Power of Many Pieces
Beyond all these principles lies the effect of a body of work. At times, it is less about a single piece and more about a collection of works. There is power in seeing an artist’s exhibit from a series of works. From this, you observe a continued way the artist is looking at the world and reacting to it. It is an evolution of thought and technique. Art is not a destination but rather an exploration. The creation of art is a process of discovery, evaluation and evolution.
At times, the artist's exploration focuses on the medium. The artist might want to explore manipulation of paint by splattering or through thick application or manipulate to get a high degree of detail or to get a subtle effect, and so on. Other times, it is to capture a moment in time – perhaps a relevant social matter, or a commonplace human event. Work after work, the artist explores the possibilities within the idea. It is a drive, a fascination, even obsession within the artist to pursue this exploration.
Less talk. More feel.
Perhaps the slipperiest point of defining Art is that the Art experience is a passionate one, not an analytical one. Art comes from the heart and is delivered to the heart. Simply writing about it and what makes art, Art, is a more mental, analytical endeavor. What thoughtful writings (like this one) tend to lack is that emotive, heartfelt passion that captivates and consumes. It is the obsessive force that drives the artist back down the same path to reexamine the possibilities and the magnetic tug that lures the viewer in again and again. And so is again that Art is like love. We know it better when we feel it, not when we stop to think about it.